The game of softball has always been entertaining and fun for me. As my age started to catch up with me and unable to keep up with the younger players, I decided to continue to be involved with softball as an umpire. Over the years in my new part time profession, I started to develop a thick skin. As an umpire you find out just how many critics are out there during a game. Parents and coaches all had something to say about a particular call I made. But none of them would ever bother to become a certified umpire. Listening to these remarks I would just shrug them off and continue with the game. There are times I would pull the coach aside and give them a warning and 95% of the time that would be enough to stifle any further remarks. In 16 years as an umpire, I have only thrown out three people, two coaches and a parent. All three were well deserved. During one game, I was not expecting this from a player.
It was a chilly April day in Massachusetts and I was working behind the plate at a local varsity high school game. The home team had this tremendous pitcher, she was ranked 2nd best pitcher in the state the previous year and she lead the state and strike outs with her speed and movement. Watching her warming up was impressive, you could hear the sharp “pop” of the ball hit the catcher’s mitt. During the game her velocity was even more impressive. Her mechanics and complete control of the ball was simply beautiful. The opposing team’s batter could not keep up with her speed and were completely fooled by the movement she had on the ball.
During the game, one batter after another was sent back to the bench. On occasions a batter might foul it off or hit a ground ball, but the infield was solid and made some nice plays. Only one batter made it safely to first base on a little blooper to left center, just out of the reach of the shortstop. Even in the late innings of the game, this pitcher still threw with the same intensity as she did in the first inning. The velocity and the movement of the ball never diminished. The top of the fifth inning had started with the pitcher still having complete control of the hitters. The first batter struck out on five pitches and the second batter went down swinging on three pitches. The third batter came up to the plate. Digging her cleats into the dirt, the batter took her position in the batter’s box. My right hand was up and my arm extended out, like a police officer holding up traffic, waiting for the batter to get ready. When the batter settled into her spot in the batter’s box I pointed toward the pitcher indicating we were ready. The first pitch came in fast, but low and outside. In a low tone I said, “Ball!” The second pitch was the same, low and outside, again in a low tone, “Ball!” The third pitch looked to be coming inside but at the last moment broke right over the plate, knee high. I yelled, “STRIKE!” and then came up with my with my arm raised and made a fist.
Batter looked at me and asked, “Time Blue?”
I yelled out, “Time!”
She stepped one foot out of the batter’s box and took a couple of practice swings. Placing her foot back in and taking her position, I adjusted my stance behind the catcher. Raising my hand up I pointed at the pitcher to let her know we were ready to continue. The pitcher stood there and waited for the signal from the catcher and with a slight nod, she stepped up to the pitching rubber and began her wind-up. I crouched down behind the catcher and immediately picked up the ball as soon as it left her hand. This bright optic yellow ball appeared to be coming right down the middle of the plate, but it suddenly broke inside about two feet from the batter. The batter had started her swing and quickly realized at the last second the ball was going to jam her inside. The ball came in tight and crowded her, but she managed to catch a piece of the ball.
As an umpire, we are trained not to move or flinch from the ball, even if the ball is heading right for you. I did not move an inch, I had a tremendous amount of faith in the catcher that day and was anticipating her to block the ball. However in this situation, no one had enough time to react. The bat caught just enough of the ball to redirect it past the catcher’s mitt and for some reason the ball seemed to accelerate from 50mph to light speed. In that instance I heard a loud bone crushing CRACK, and then felt an enormous amount of pain. The ball had hit the bone in my elbow and the pain radiated throughout my entire arm. The first words out of my mouth were not “FOUL BALL” or “DEAD BALL”, but more on the side of profanity: “AHHHH SHIT!” I screamed out holding my left elbow. Dead silence took over the field. No one said a word, none of the coaches, fans or players. I could feel all eyes were on me. The catcher turned around with a blank look on her face, the batter had a look of horror on her face and the pitcher came running in saying, “I’m so sorry!” Finally the silence broke when someone yelled out, “Are you OK Blue!”
“Yea”, I replied, but I wasn’t. I could still feel the pain emanate in my left arm.
My partner on the bases came running from the first base side and as he approached me he said, “Damn! I heard that one from first base.”
Making a fist with my left hand, I took a couple of deep breaths. The pain was starting to lessen, but not fast enough. I knew my elbow was going to kill me later tonight. Getting myself together I reassured the pitcher, catcher and batter that it was no one’s fault. It really is just part of the game. The ball was tossed back into the catcher and she flipped it back to the pitcher. The catcher turned her head around as if to say “Are you sure you are OK?” I nodded my head and she took her position behind the plate batter. I stepped in behind her and was ready to continue. The third base coach called out to me, “Hey Blue what’s the count?”
I looked down at my indicator and saw two balls and two strikes. I rose up my left hand, holding up two fingers and the same with the right hand and yelled back, “TWO BALLS AND TWO STRIKES!” It was at that moment I heard the catcher say “AND ONE AH SHIT!”